Copyright crunch time

A tsunami of change is happening with copyright and piracy laws and the digital content industry is being dragged along kicking and screaming.

The start of 2012 has seen tension between the vested traditional media and the newer internet media companies heat up, with the age old issue of copyright and online piracy at the core of the problem.

In the US for example, we have seen the rise of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) initiative and proposed Protect IP Act or PIPA which stands for the lengthy title of: Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act.

These acts are a reaction to the growing internet media sector which has become a serious threat to traditional media and Hollywood. Supporters argue that these acts will enhance the ability for copyright laws to be enforced and protect intellectual property – while objectors claim it will threaten free speech and innovation.

This is a global issue and is not just confined to the US. Countries are beginning to band together with Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, United States and 22 member states of the European Union all signatories to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which aims to establish international standards for intellectual property rights enforcement.

Examples of where tensions have arisen includes Australia where an ongoing battle between iiNet and major Hollywood players continues. A lawsuit was raised against iiNet in 2008 by Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and Disney and the Seven Network.

This group of media players argues that iiNet was not doing enough to stop customers conducting illegal downloads from its service and could assist by either warning or disconnecting customers for breaches. The battle has reached the High Court of Australia and is a landmark case on global level.

Australia has also gained global attention through the battle between its two leading carriers Optus and Telstra over sporting rights. In 2012 a judge, using existing copyright legislation, ruled that Optus and other providers can now broadcast football games that Telstra has “exclusive” digital rights to as early as two minutes after the live broadcast. Sporting groups are now placing pressure upon Julia Gillard  to close this loop hole and bring copyright laws into the digital age.

Copyright laws around the world date back to the 17th century and were introduced with the emerging book industry in the UK. It has been argued that the introduction of copyright laws at the time allowed Amsterdam to become the printing centre of Europe and the US a boost to its education practices – with the UK missing out due to the strict copyright rules.

BuddeComm can see a similar trend happening in the current world – as keeping these outdated rules will hamper the growth of the digital economy. So while it is equally important to protect and update copyright laws – we also need to force the traditional media industries to change their business models and look for different revenue opportunities.

The reality is that with the internet, social media, smartphones and soon smart TV; it is impossible to stop the tsunami – the industry will have to change and it looks like this will be done kicking and screaming.

Paul Budde is the managing director of BuddeComm, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy company, which includes 45 national and international researchers in 15 countries.